Why We Love Italy- Etna On The Rise

2021 Benanti Etna Rosso DOC ‘Contrada Monte Serra’

$55.99 with shipping included on 6 bottles or more

I remember, back sometime in the mid-1990s, driving from Piemonte to Tucsany with Marco de Grazia, then the instigator, impresario and importer of the ‘Barolo Boys’ wines from Piemonte. Even with the taste of the last Barolo we had enjoyed together that morning lingering on our lips, Marco asserted, as we navigated the tunnels between Torino and Genoa, that it was Mount Etna in Sicily, not Piemonte, that was going to be the place to be in the 21st century, and he was going to back his words by pushing all his chips onto this very active volcano and developing the property that would eventually become Domaine delle Terre Nere. Wow! Here was a guy who made his living selling Barolo telling me he was moving to Sicily. Not that he was the only one interested in farming Etna, mind you, but Marco was presciently the first to prove to the old timers already living on the mountain that truly fine wine could be produced from the patchwork of multi-oriented, wildly heterogenous vineyards that dotted the mountain. The secret, he pointed out to all who would listen, was understanding the ‘contrade’ or unique vineyard parcels, some over 100 years old, that ranged in every direction and every altitude of this smoldering cinder. He pointed out that where and how the lava has flowed over the centuries has created distinctly different layers of terroir and that the local Carricante and Nerello grapes would respond differently depending on where they were planted. As Terre Nere soon thrived, so then did a new generation of those aforementioned old families like the Benantis and Gracis and, eventually, an onslaught of newcomers, all with a passion to brave the heroic (and potentially lethal) sort of viticultural effort required to grow grapes on a constantly erupting volcano. The Benantis, though, are one family that had a pretty good head start. With a history on the mountain going back to the 1880s, it was Giuseppe Benanti who first started bottling the grapes he farmed back in 1988 and, along with De Grazia and a handful of other families, created the quality paradigm for Etna Rosso and Bianco. Run since 2012 by his two sons, quality has done nothing but improve over the past decades and theirs are among the most coveted wines on Etna. The Benanti holdings of Contrada Monte Serra are on the slopes of an ancient extinct volcanic cone within the territory of the village of Viagrande on the southeastern flank of Etna. The Nerello Mascalese vines on this slope range in age from 14 to over 100 years old and provide the perfect balance between youthful freshness and old vine gravitas. Simply made with an eye towards to preserving the fruit, the freshness and the essence of Etna, it’s simply a lovely wine with lilting, elegant flavors and a positively Burgundian outlook on life. It’s lovely, lilting, spicy and gorgeously layered. If Vosne-Romanee were grown on the side of a Sicilian volcano, this is probably what it would taste like! It’s a wonderful drink now- flexible enough to handle either a grilled fish or a spicy pasta, it will only improve over the next decade. Lovely, lovely, lovely!

Vinous Media: Dusty, floral, yet delicate, 2021 Etna Rosso Contrada Monte Serra wafts up nuanced with rose-tinged red fruits and spice. It flows easily across the palate, soft and round, gaining traction through a core of mineral tinged tar cherry and strawberry tones. A cranberry crunch lingers along with edgy tannins, yet also a bump of residual acidity that maintains a lovely freshness. This is a beautiful rendition of Monte Serra. 93 points

James Suckling: Aromas of fresh plums, peaches and nectarines with some lemon blossom. Some caramel. It’s full-bodied yet stealth with wonderfully fine textured tannins that spread openly across the palate. Oranges at the end with some candied lemons. Drink or hold. 95 points